Our Little Homestead – Veggie Update

I’m sure you all remember the riveting account of my semi-crazy garden planning process. If not, you can review. Well buckle up kids you’re headed for a full-on garden update! Yep, we’ve got veggies, and heat. (You like that cliff-notes summary?)

As soon as the weather started warming up our veggies took off. In fact we’ve got wild strawberries growing in the yard next to the driveway! It’s been fun to watch the plants grow and start to produce fruit. We planted a variety of things just to see what would do well. Check out the garden in full bloom!

First out of the gate were the herbs: rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, mint, lemongrass and chives are still going strong. Some are doing better than others. (I may have to put a muzzle on the mint it’s getting a little rowdy!) We’ve also had a lot of luck with eggplant, squash and jalapenos. These three plants must be in their prime location because they are still producing obscene amounts of produce. We’ve resorted to freezing most of it for later use because we just can’t eat it all! Speaking of the jalapeños or as I like to call them little hell demons. They are UNBELIVEABLY hot. We casually cut the first up and threw a few rings on our tacos. BIG mistake, my mouth burned for hours. For some reason they are much hotter when you grow them yourself. Noted. You win this round jalapeño.

Our tomatoes, chili peppers, habaneros, swiss chard, onions and carrots are just now starting to peak. So we expect to get a lot more off them in the next few weeks. (We’re actually a little afraid to try the habanero because we’ve tasted how much hotter the Jalapenos are. We’ll see who draws the short straw.) Our more delicate plants like, lettuce, spinach, bell peppers, and fennel did well in the spring but quickly died out when the heat closed in. Which is different than when the night closes in…(in case you were wondering.)

Speaking of the heat. It’s hot…like really hot. The southeast is in the middle of one nasty heat wave. I know what you’re thinking:

I know its summer but I still wanna whine about how hot it is! GAH! Actually, it has been hotter than normal here in good ol’ NC. In case you’ve been living under a rock and hadn’t heard I’ll tell you that NC had about 5 days at 106 degrees. It was so hot a road melted. That may sound like a redneck statement but this one is actually true! This heatwave obviously meant that everyone and their mom had to post photos of their thermometers showing the heat…like we hadn’t heard it on the news all day.

ANYWAYS, rant aside. This smoldering heat has played a huge role on our yard. Our grass is brown and we may have lost a few plants (RIP: hanging fern), but we’re watering daily and we think most of the plants will make it.

We’ve been trying some new recipes that utalize our bounty and they have been delish. I’ll be adding the recipes soon so you can make them at home! So far we’ve made:

  • Lemon & dill fish
  • Tomato soup
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Stuffed jalapenos
  • Eggplant and zucchini lasagna
  • And dried herbs

We’re only halfway through the summer which means we’ve got a lot more growing to do. I’ll keep you posted on new harvests and any new meals!

Vegetable Coconut Red Curry Soup

If you’ve met us you know that we LOVE sushi. So it was imperative to find a restaurant near our new home. Well, folks we found one. They don’t stop at just sushi…they have Thai, Chinese, Japanese … pretty much anything you’d ever want. We stopped by one day and I was feeling a little under the weather and the waitress suggested this soup rather than my normal sushi. I followed her lead and my life hasn’t been the same since. It was TO.DIE.FOR. It’s creamy, spicy, sweet, comforting, warm, and totally satisfying. I had to recreate this masterpiece at home. I found this recipe and used it as a starting point. Today, I give you my recipe for red curry soup.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs. canola oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • ¼  cup red curry paste
  • 1 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 cans light coconut milk
  • 2 ½  cups organic vegetable broth
  • ¼  cup fresh lime or lemon juice
  • ¼  cup thinly sliced peeled fresh ginger (or 1 tbs. powdered ginger)
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce
  • ½ can of cream of mushroom
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 entire onion
  • 1 small package of mushrooms
  • Thai basil (If you’ve never had it go to the store and get some immediately)
  • NOTE: if you want to spice it up add 2 tbs. of red pepper flakes
  • NOTE: You can also add protein to this party by adding chicken, tofu, or seafood. Just make sure you cook the meat appropriately.

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat
  2. Add garlic to pan and sauté for 30 seconds or until lightly browned
  3. Add curry paste and sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly
  4. Add brown sugar and cook 1 minute
  5. Stir in coconut milk, broth, juice, ginger, basil, cream of mushroom, red pepper flakes (optional) and soy sauce. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 hour (NOTE: you only really have to simmer for 30 min. but the longer you simmer the more robust the taste will become.)
  6. Add onions and green peppers and cook for 6 minutes
  7. Add mushrooms to pan and cook 4 minutes

Photo Credit

Veggie Tales

After college I moved into a townhome and lived there for about 5 years. I loved the low maintenance and convenience of it; however, I missed having a yard. Some of my fondest childhood memories are helping my dad spread pine straw or helping with an outdoor project. So, when we were thinking about moving we knew a nice yard was a must. Since my last post, our yard has burst into a rainbow of colors and fragrances…it’s truly stunning. The previous owners did a great job of choosing some really beautiful plants. What do we have? Well, now that stuff is actually flowering I’ve been able to figure out what some of those mystery plants were! We’ve got Hostas, Lilac, Peony, Spiderwort, Japanese Maples, Cherry trees, Azaleas (the large and small variety), Lilies, Iris’, Rroses, and various flowering ground cover to name a few.

We’ve also loved watching the landscaping come to life in the natural areas around the house. I’ve included some photos below. The top photo is one of the most beautiful aspects of the yard, the trellis between our property and the neighbor. Recently, delicate yellow roses have completely covered the trellis…it’s quite a sight. The bottom four photos are landscaped areas across the yard. The two photos on the left were taken in the main natural area along the side of our home.  The photos on the right are the natural areas beside the front porch. We’re absolutely in love with the red Japanese maple. We recently also added some additional plants including:  some hanging flowers, a hydrangea, iris’ (because people are just giving them away) and Lilly of the Valley (because they are my absolute favorite).

Now on to the edibles! We both really wanted a vegetable garden but we couldn’t get much to grow at the townhouse. So, we knew we wanted to try again since we have a little more room to grow. I don’t even want to admit how many hours it took me to decide what and where to plan, but I will. Prepare yourselves because you’re about to get a glimpse of the crazy.

Step 1: Where to plant?

  • We live in a rather shady neighborhood, literally shady not sketchy, which I love! But it makes things a bit difficult when I need at least 6 hours of sunlight for vegetables to grow.

Step 2: Chart the sun/shade in your yard

  • My dad suggested that I sketch the shaded areas of the yard at 9, 12, 2, and 4 o’clock. Once I was done I layered the sheets on top of each other to find the sunniest spots. Kinda brilliant?! This technique actually worked! It was really easy to see where the sunniest parts of the yard were.

Step 3: Step outside your comfort zone.

  • After referring to my sketches I discovered that the largest sunny spot was on the outside of the fence. GASP! A garden that people can see from the road!? I know, blasphemy. I had to get over myself and the thought that vegetable gardens were meant to be hidden away in the back yard. While working on our garden we’ve actually gotten a lot of complements on it. I’m proud to say that we’re officially working outside the box on this one.

Step 4: Create the garden bed

  • If you live in the South you know about our clay situation. If not, let me break it down. We’ve got about an inch of dirt and meters of red clay. So, we had to create a raised bed to accommodate the veggies. We enlisted the help of my dad (he had all the tools and know-how for this sort of project). We decided to use half-round garden timbers because they were inexpensive and durable. It was a rather simple project if you have the tools to do it.
    • Level out the ground so that the wood sits flat
    • Cut the ends of the boards at a 45 degree angle so they fit flush in the corners
    • Nail the corners together
    • Drill holes every few feet and hammer in ¾ in. x 2 ft. rebar into them (to keep the boards from moving around)
    • NOTE: Don’t smash your finger with the hammer. My dad was the victim of a vicious hammer attack that led to a broken thumb. So, be careful and go slow.

Step 5: Fill garden with dirt

  • We decided to use a combo of equal parts top soil and manure. To get a good mix we alternated bags in the planter then cut and mixed them together. This was the simplest task to accomplish.

Step 6: Decide what to plant

  • This was the most stressful part of the process for me because I couldn’t find a single source for gardening. I looked at books, websites, blogs, and took advice from friends to get the answers to my questions. Why can’t there be just one place that all this stuff is held?! Sigh. It took me days to figure out the combination for our garden…and I’m not even convinced I did it right. But one day while I was buried in a chapter on “planting combinations” it hit me. I realized that this is my first try and I’m not got to get it perfect so why stress about it. So, that’s what I did.
  • A lot of plans included veggies that were cool but we’d never really eat and I wanted to make sure we’d eat what we planted. We went with tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, spinach, lettuce, carrots, egg plant, oregano, basil, chives, fennel, and Swiss chard.

  • We also planted a few other herbs in pots around the house including: rosemary, orange mint, Thai basil, parsley, and cilantro. These were put in pots around the house because we’ll be using them a lot or they tend to take over vegetable beds.

Step 7: Water regularly

We’ve decided to water in the mornings for a few reasons.

  1. As it gets increasingly hotter during the day they will need that moisture for as long as possible.
  2. It’s cooler and more comfortable for us to water in the morning rather than in the afternoon
  3. Reduces the prevalence of slugs. Apparently, if you water at night (when they are active) they are drawn towards the water. And at that point you’re basically inviting them in to your garden. NOTE: I found one of these guys hanging out under a potted plant. He’s so pretty I let him stay — with the agreement that he’d leave the garden alone. 🙂

We’ve put countless hours into our yard and we couldn’t be happier with how it’s coming along. We’ve enjoyed watching the yard burst into life and can’t wait to see what summer brings.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burger

I’ve noticed that overtime my taste buds have matured and I’m more daring in my eatable escapades. Those PB&J and chicken nugget days are gone. I remember I used to hate sweet potatoes. But now, I think they are simply delish and I’m constantly trying to add them into our meals. I came across this recipe for a sweet potato/ black bean burger, whaa?! Like the spinach burger, I had some concerns about these non-meat burgers. “Would the texture be weird? Would they be filling? Black beans AND sweet potatoes…what kind of a combo is that? Well, I can say that I don’t crave beef burgers anymore… I crave these.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15oz.) black beans, drained + rinsed
  • 3 cups cubed sweet potato, cooked + skin on ( about 1.5lbs)
  • ½ cup corn
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped onion – (½ medium onion)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • 6 tbs. whole wheat flour
  • 2 tbs. sunflower seeds
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • ¼ tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • black pepper to taste

Topping Options:

    • Roasted red pepper
    • Tomato
    • Avocado
    • Spicy Mustard
    • Ketchup

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375* (NOTE: Wait till you finish cooking the quinoa + potato)
  2. Mash half of the beans in a bowl until they form a paste
  3. Lightly combine with the rest of the beans (NOTE: This adds texture)
  4. In a large bowl, mash the sweet potatoes. Each cube should be mashed, but you don’t want it creamy.
  5. Stir in the salt, pepper, oregano, coriander, chili powder, cayenne and olive oil
  6. Mix in the onion, garlic, corn, black beans, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and ground oats, until combined
  7. Form into balls, between your hands and flatten into 1/2”-3/4” thick patties. (NOTE: This should make 8 medium/large patties)
  8. Place on a lightly greased pan] and bake on each side for 15min, flipping once, half-way through.
  9. Remove from oven + serve!
  10. *To Freeze: Let them cool completely then place into a sealed container/bag. To reheat just heat them in a pan for 3-5 minutes per side.

How To Make Quinoa (I didn’t know either!):

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed + drained
  • 2 cups water
  1. Heat a pot over medium
  2. Add quinoa and toast for 1-3 min, stirring a few times.
  3. Add water, turn heat to med-high and bring to a boil.
  4. Stir once, reduce heat to simmer + cover the pot with a lid.
  5. Set your timer to 15min and do not stir or open the lid!!
  6. Turn off the heat and move the pot to another burner for 5 min.
  7. Uncover, and fluff with a fork.

Garden Greek Appetizer

Image: The Lovely Cupboard

With all of the holiday gatherings nearly over, Christine and I had to find one final dish to bring for Christmas eve with my family. We pulled out a dusty Pampered Chef recipe book and came across this delightful, cheesy Greek dip. It’s simple to make and rich with fresh flavors, and turned out to be a big hit at our family Christmas dinner; jaw-droppingly tasty! Yummy Greek Dip – this certainly is not the last time our taste-buds will be hearing from you!

Ingredients:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (we used Greek yogurt, for obvious reasons)
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3+ pitted ripe olives, finely chopped (we used Kalamata olives)

Combine the cream cheese, feta cheese, yogurt, garlic and pepper in a large mixer bowl. Beat at high speed until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture in a round 10-inch dish. Chill, covered, until firm. Top with the tomatoes, cucumber, green onions and ripe olives. Serve with assorted party breads and crackers.

Spinach Burgers

I found a recipe for spinach burgers on Pinterest and was intrigued. My mind was overcome with questions. How to they stay together? Do they have a weird texture? Would they taste bland? The list went on and on. To the point where I figured we had to make them so I could sleep at night. The verdict? They were simply wonderful. They were easy to make, packed full of flavor, had great texture and were guilt-free. I really think you should give these a try.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of chopped spinach
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

  1. With your hands, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Form into patties by hand or with a handy patty maker.
  3. Heat a non stick skillet over med-high and spray with cooking spray.
  4. Serve on a pair of buns, or fancy em’ up like we did with an over easy egg on top. NOTE: We thought these would make a great base for most foods. Like a filet of fish and rice combo would be a great addition. And for something simple, a couple simple squirts of Sriracha sauce would be fantastic. However you like it, these ‘burgers’ are delish.

Homemade Tomato Soup

It’s starting to get chilly down here in NC. Yes, you heard me correctly. It’s starting to get cold in December. Global warming is such a hoax…what a load of baloney.

Anyways, the crisp air was making my belly ache for something warm and comforting. Looking through the pantry I realized that I had everything I needed to make tomato soup without going to the store. Hold the phone, when does this ever happen? When do ever have all the ingredients I need without taking at least one trip to the grocery store? So, I had to make this soup for my belly and I had to make it for all man-kind. Well, one man-kind, and he loved it!

Ingredients

  • 1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, reserving the juices, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat and add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Add basil then puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.

Holiday Cranberry Chutney

Who’s tired of cranberry sauce? We are. So, we decided to revamp it by making cranberry chutney. It’s a little less traditional, a little more modern and a whole lotta tasty. It’s an inexpensive dish that looks like a million bucks. And the best part is that it’s also great on turkey sandwiches. So, if you ever want a little taste of the holidays in May, this recipe is for you. We’re making it this thanksgiving and we know it will be a hit.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12 ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 large cooking apple, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan, combine all ingredients; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer for 15-20 minutes or until apple is tender and mixture thickens. Cool completely.
  2. Store in the refrigerator. Serve over cream cheese with crackers or as a condiment with pork, ham or chicken.